Jonathan Decter is Associate Professor and Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies at Brandeis University. His first book, Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe, was awarded the Salo W. Baron Prize for best first book in Jewish Studies (2008). His research focuses on the intellectual and cultural production of Arabic speaking Jews during the medieval period. His forthcoming book on Jewish panegyric writing is entitled Dominion Built of Praise: Panegyric and Legitimacy among Mediterranean Jews.
The Jewish Ahl al-Adab of al-Andalus
The writings of medieval Arabic speaking Jews readily reveal that these authors embraced the concept of adab in the expansive sense of incorporating knowledge in poetry, oratory, rhetoric, and grammar as well as a refined, urbane code of etiquette. For over two generations, modern scholars have referred to Jews in the Islamic West who adopted these values as “courtier rabbis” though it is preferable to refer to them as ahl al-adab (people of adab), a term by which they sometimes referred to themselves. Using the concept of a “community of practice” as it has emerged in social linguistics, this paper will study the ways in which Jews in the Islamic West used the concept of adab in order to define the contours of a distinct social group.